I can’t believe it’s been a whole month since I last blogged. So much has happened in that month as well, it’s hard to know where to start. I’m hoping by Sunday to get back on track with posting a Sunday poem, but today’s blog will just be me, rattling on about my summer.
I’ve been back a week now, and I’ve spent the week recovering from the late nights, catching up with emails and various admin chores, and pretty much non stop writing, which has felt bloody amazing!
On August 22nd I flew to Macedonia, to take part in Struga Poetry Evenings, which involved getting a very early train to Manchester Airport. Then I had to fly to Vienna, where I had a six hour stopover, so I decided to get the express train into the city to have a look around. I’m glad I did this, although I didn’t have a huge amount of time. I walked to the cathedral, had a look inside, then went and found a cafe, got something to eat, and then carried on walking round in a big loop before getting the train back to the airport.
If you do have time to kill in Vienna, I would definitely recommend getting the train into the city – it was very quick, on time and it had wifi and charge points for phones!
I then got my flight to Skopje in Macedonia and landed quite late – just before midnight. I had to get up early the next morning to get on the minibus to take us to Struga, a couple of hours drive away, where most of the festival would take place.
Struga is a lovely town, there is a river in the middle, with cafes and restaurants along the bank of the river on both sides.
And of course it sits on the side of a lake, with a pebble beach and sun chairs and the clearest water I’ve ever seen in a lake.
It wasn’t all sitting around on the beach though – I did a poetry reading of at least one or two poems nearly every day, in monasteries, on the side of the lake, in the hotel. I read the poems in English and then they were read in Macedonian. I was the only English poet at the festival – there were many other poets from all over the world.
For the last couple of months, I’ve been writing very slowly. I’ve not really been blocked, because I have been writing, but I’ve just been writing at a very, very slow pace. One day at the festival, I went down to the beach to join some of the other poets, and saw Maud Vanhauwaert, a poet from Belgium, sitting with a few of the other poets, writing in her notebook in the sunshine. This sounds very strange I know, but I felt something come unstuck inside me, and I knew it was to do with writing, and being able to write. I’ve told Maud since then not to tell me what she was writing – I’m hoping it was a poem, and not her to do list, and I wish I’d took a photo so I could look at it again, if I ever get blocked, or slowed down, or whatever the name is for the way I’ve been feeling.
Here is a picture of me and Maud on the last day of the festival – I am very soppy, and nearly started crying when I was seeing her off on the bus.
There were some amazing, strong, independent, brave, funny and talented women at the festival. I feel incredibly lucky that I got to meet them all.
Left to right, Linda Klakken, Volya Hapeyeva, Maria Seisenbacher, Hilà Lahav and Attila Vegh almost missed the ferry back to Struga and still managed to look cool.
Left to right: Madeline Grive, who directs Stockholm International Poetry Festival, Eleanor Livingstone, director of Stanza Poetry Festival, me and Tziona Shamay, director of Helicon Poetry Festival in Israel. This photo was taken in the beautiful town of Ohrid.
Regina Dyck, minus her bag of crackers which she carried everywhere. The crackers saved us from starvation on many occasions during long poetry readings. Regina also used said crackers to calm angry Dutch tourists.
Krystyna Dąbrowska – brilliant poet from Poland with a great sense of humour. Four of us hired a paddle boat and failed abjectly at steering said boat. To get back to shore we basically did figure of eights until we got close enough to drag it back along the sand.
Meeting all of these women, hearing their poetry, was definitely one of the highlights of the festival for me. It was one of those weeks where you feel like your face is just going to ache permanently from laughing too much, and I met people I could talk to for hours and not get bored. It was a really special week.
At the end of the festival, I went on my own holiday around northern Greece with my husband – we climbed Mount Olympus, spent a day sunbathing,went to the Meteora region to see the monasteries built on rocks, and generally had a brilliant time. It was just what we needed as we haven’t been away together for a couple of years now.
I’ve been back from holiday about a week, and I’ve been writing non stop since then, which has made catching up with emails and admin difficult. I don’t know if the poems are any good yet – it’s too soon but it feels like they could be. Other than that, it has been lovely to see my running friends again. I’ve even enjoyed running in the rain and gale force winds along the beach.
So that is pretty much all my news – I will hopefully be back on Sunday with a regular instalment of the Sunday Poem.